At our last assembly of the spring term – as many pupils headed towards external exams, and the day before our whole school 10km walk – I spoke to the girls about rest.
Today we near the end of another incredibly busy term. I was putting the finishing touches to Year 11 reports last night and marvelling at how much you have achieved as a year group despite being in a critical exam year. The Into the Woods musical, the Middlesex Netball Finals, concerts galore, GCSE drama performances, Art coursework, running societies, the Gym & Dance show… the list is exhausting. Thank you for all that you do. I would of course at this point also like to thank the Upper Sixth as they step down from their leadership positions and focus more selfishly on their studies. You have given us so much as a community and I am looking forward to the myriad of valedictory events to mark the end of your schooling at South Hampstead.
We all need a good rest now to recharge our batteries. But we have revision, I hear three year groups cry! Anyone in Year 10 or below thinking this, STOP. The holidays are not meant for internal exam revision and if your parents try to persuade you otherwise, please tell them to contact me and I will politely remind them of our school policy. I think quite a few of you are thinking: but we have 10km to walk tomorrow! Yes, you do, and I think despite some of your misgivings and assurances that you can’t possibly walk that far or carry enough Haribo to fuel this epic expedition along London’s very flat riverbank, you will actually enjoy the walk. If nothing else, you will enjoy having 2.5 hours to chat to your friends, take in London’s great sights and bask in the glory of accomplishment – as well as raising money for Care International and lobbying your local MP to take action against climate change outside the Houses of Parliament at the end of the walk.
And therein perhaps lies an important truth about the human condition. Rest isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. There is an almost religious worship these days of ‘rest’. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time at wellness centres or contemplating the health-giving properties of bubble bath and luxury candles. It seems that anyone sensible and worthy these days has the perfect balance of work, rest and play. They have a stimulating job by day and at night they never ever take phones up to the bedroom or catch up on what Meghan Markle’s been up to (guilty secret alert), and they sleep for a refreshing 8 hours a night and are awoken by birdsong. They always leave the house with plenty of time to spare because running late raises their cortisol levels and they wouldn’t want that would they? They shun chocolate for wheat-germ and they don’t need caffeine because they always get 8 hours sleep.
The thing is that bubble bath and scented candles and wellness centres don’t make me happy. I hate Spa Days with an almost vitriolic passion. The thought of sitting still whilst wearing a white towelling dressing gown is enough to reduce me to quivering rage. And that is because it’s not how I recharge my batteries. I applaud the new narrative in schools and society about wellness and rest. It’s really important. But it’s also important that we don’t let the record get stuck on the same tune. We each of us have our own healthy and unhealthy ways of relaxing. My unhealthy ways of relaxing, which leave me feeling empty and depressed after a while, involve mindless scrolling through stories about what Kate Middleton is wearing this week and then browsing the Hobbs website for another dress I really don’t need. 10 minutes every so often on these idle pursuits are fine in my view. They act as a sort of brain dump for me after a busy week at work. But they are not a form of rest I find sustaining any more than I find scented candles sustaining. Reading novels and escaping into the generally much more complex, interesting and tragic lives of their characters is something I find wonderfully restful. Running over hill and dale in the Chiltern Hills with my dog is hard work but I find it wonderfully restful. Even tidying up the messiest room in our house (with a lot of passive aggressive huffing and puffing) is quite restful as I can have a lovely cup of tea and a biscuit when it’s finished. Go Ape with my daughter is restful, even when I get tangled up on the Extreme Course or chicken out of the Plummet, a 16m vertical drop on the course at Alexandra Palace.
Rest also doesn’t have to be taken in lavish chunks of time. Sometimes we think that’s what we need but I remember reading a newspaper article in one of the broadsheets which reported on an interesting study. The study showed that the effects of a holiday of 2 to 3 days in length were the same as a holiday which was a week in length. Now, don’t worry, I have absolutely no plans to shorten our precious holidays, but this was interesting and made me more determined than ever to enjoy those little pockets of rest as well as the very obvious ones signposted in large capital letters, such as the 8 Week Summer Holiday. So for those of you with misgivings about tomorrow’s 10km walk, remember that there is solace and comfort to be sought in effort (well done for all your incredible fundraising, and for writing to your MPs so passionately about climate change) as well as in lying horizontal eating sweets. And for those of you with revision to plough on with over the holidays, remember that even those little breaks can be extremely refreshing. Take them and enjoy them. The biggest spoiler of rest is worrying about the end of rest. So when you get the chance to rest, take it, grab it and do it your own way. On that note, I wish you all a very happy holiday.